The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

English: Photograph of Abraham Flexner
Abraham Flexner

“In an age obsessed with practicality, productivity, and efficiency, I frequently worry that we are leaving little room for abstract knowledge and for the kind of curiosity that invites just enough serendipity to allow for the discovery of ideas we didn’t know we were interested in until we are, ideas that we may later transform into new combinations with applications both practical and metaphysical.

This concern, it turns out, is hardly new. In The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge (PDF), originally published in the October 1939 issue of Harper’s, American educator Abraham Flexner explores this dangerous tendency to forgo pure curiosity in favor of pragmatism — in science, in education, and in human thought at large — to deliver a poignant critique of the motives encouraged in young minds, contrasting those with the drivers that motivated some of history’s most landmark discoveries.” (Brain Pickings).

Another Tick-Borne Disease to Guard Against

English: Adult deer tick, Ixodes scapularis. Č...

“Despite its many delights, summer also brings its fair share of pestilence. One, called babesiosis, has only recently been widely recognized as a potentially serious outdoor hazard. According to a very detailed study conducted on Block Island, R.I., it could eventually rival Lyme disease as the most common tick-borne ailment in the United States.” (NYTimes)

I have also just learned of a disease I had never heard of, called anaplasmosis, which is caused by a rickettsial organism also spread by tickbites. It was while starting to read about anaplasmosis that I noticed that there is alot on the radar screens just now about babesiosis.

Iain Sinclair: Games A ‘Smoke And Circuses’ Affair

June 2011 - Aerial photo of the Olympic Park m...

“Thousands of elite athletes have descended on London for the 2012 Olympic Games, and spectators the world over are tuning in to enjoy the action.

But five years’ worth of development has left some locals feeling invaded, and some austerity-weary Britons resenting the bill. Between construction and security, the British government’s budget has soared past $14 billion, about $10 billion over original projections.

East London, home to Olympic Park, the hub of the games, is also home to some of the poorest parts of England. Officials have touted the long-term benefits the games are bringing to the area, like low-income housing and better infrastructure. But author and longtime East London resident Iain Sinclair isn’t buying it.

Sinclair’s latest book is called Ghost Milk: Recent Adventures Among the Future Ruins of London on the Eve of the Olympics. He tells NPR’s Guy Raz that the 2012 Olympics have been challenging for the people living closest.” (NPR)

The Big Higgs Question

Steven Weinberg
Steven Weinberg

Preeminent physicist Steven Weinberg writes in that preeminent scientific journal, The New York Review of Books: “It is often said that what was at stake in the search for the Higgs particle was the origin of mass. True enough, but this explanation needs some sharpening.” (NYRblog). It turns out to be a succinct statement of why the Higgs boson was sought in the first place.

Study: HIV Undetectable in 2 Men After Bone Marrow Transplants

HIV Particle
HIV Particle (Photo credit: AJC1)

“…[R]esearchers suspect that bone marrow transplantation along with continuation of antiretroviral therapy resulted in the dramatic effects evident eight months post-transplant. They are scheduled to present these preliminary findings Thursday at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

HIV patients on antiretroviral therapy often achieve “undetectable viral loads,” meaning there are no virus particles in their blood. But they still have latent HIV in their lymphocytes, and if antiretroviral therapy were discontinued, the latent HIV could reactivate.” (

Six facts about guns, violence, and gun control

Summer's End. Lexington Green, 11 September 20...

“The aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado shootings has been thick with calls to avoid “politicizing” the tragedy. That is code, essentially, for “don’t talk about reforming our gun control laws.”

Let’s be clear: This is a form of politicization… That said, it’s important to be clear about what Aurora is: A tragedy that may or may not tell us anything useful about the general trends in guns and violence in the United States. And so this post is about those trends, some of which may surprise you.”  (Washington Post, thanks to tom).